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UEFA announces new rule changes for Champions League & Europa League

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The UEFA Executive Committee have tweaked rules for rosters, start times, and qualifying beginning in 2018-19.

Club Brugge KV v Leicester City FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

UEFA, the governing body for European football, announced today that they are fine-tuning and adjusting rules for the Champions League, Europa League, and Champions Cup that will take effect beginning with the 2018-19 competition.

The rule tweaks were adopted after an UEFA Executive Committee meeting in February and will be in effect for the next three year cycle, after which the committee will again evaluate and make changes if necessary. These are in addition to the previously-announced changes, which included adjustments to qualifying (which, for example, allowed the top four teams from Spain, England, Germany, and Italy to automatically qualify for the Champions League group stage).

Changes to kick-off times

This change was reported earlier, but going forward Champions League and Europa League group stage matches will kick off at 9:00 p.m. CET (currently 9 pm BST, 4:00 p.m. ET). For American readers, this is a change from the usual 2:45 p.m. kick-offs. However, some of the group stage matches in both competitions will kick off early at 6:55 p.m. CET (1:55 p.m. ET). This decision was undoubtedly made for television purposes. The final games in group stages will kick off at the same time as usual to avoid collusion situations.

Extra substitution during knock-out matches

In knock-out matches, managers will be able to bring on a fourth substitute that can be used in extra time. This does not affect the other three substitutions that are used during the 90 minutes of the match. The intent is, I presume, to add a jolt of fresh energy to the match at a time when players’ legs are about ready to fall off.

Expanded roster for Europa and Champions League finals

Exclusively for competition finals, managers will now be able to list an expanded match-day roster of 23 players instead of the usual 18. This ups the number of substitutes on the bench to 12 (from 7). The change will allow managers to be more flexible with their substitutions and have additional options.

Three unrestricted player registrations after the group stages

In what is probably the change with the most far-reaching impact, clubs that progress out of the group stages of the competitions will be allowed to register up to three players before the knock-out stages, with no restrictions. Here’s the text of the new rule as stated on UEFA’s website:

Regarding the registration of players after a group stage of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, a club may register three new eligible players without any restrictions. This is in line with the existing regulatory situation in the different domestic leagues, which does not impose restrictions on the eligibility for competitions of players registered for a new club during the winter transfer window.

This seems pretty important. Prior to this, clubs were able to make three swaps to their 25-man (maximum) rosters, but there were restrictions in place -- for example, they couldn’t register players that were already cup-tied. Tottenham swapped in Erik Lamela in the knock-out round after he returned from injury at the expense of Juan Foyth.

However, if I’m reading this correctly (and someone will no doubt correct me if I’m wrong) this new rule takes away all of those restrictions. It’s not hard to see the impact here: clubs who make signings in the January transfer window would potentially be able to add them to their Champions League knock-out squads even if they had already played in the Champions League group stages that season. This change would ostensibly help the biggest and best clubs more than others, (which cynically is probably why the rule was changed). The 25-man squad limit presumably remains in place.

Sevilla gets to wear awesome new patches on their kits

In what I expect will be known as the “Sevilla Rule,” clubs that have won five Europa League or Champions League titles, or who have won the competition three consecutive times will be able to wear a special “multiple winner badge” on their shirt sleeves. This pretty much only applies to Sevilla, who has won the Europa League five times, including three consecutive times from 2014-16. Congratulations, I guess?

What do you think of the new rule changes? Have your say in the comments.